When I first came out as schizophrenic, I shared my diagnosis with my immediate friends even before I told my family. I was unsure of how to approach disclosing that I had a mental illness, especially a chronic and debilitating thought disorder.
Like most people, I only knew from stereotypes. The image of schizophrenia I’d gleaned from movies was cloudy and jagged at best. The news media offered the darkest portrait, that of a violent criminal. I was neither of those things. The very idea that I might be pained me to my core.
How could my racing thoughts, confused speech, and voices telling me to harm myself, have anything to do with being a serial killer? There must have been some kind of mistake. My therapist and various psychologists had to be in error. The psych-evals had to be wrong. I did not have a split mind. The person I knew myself to be could not be schizophrenic. The monsters I’d been seeing for years were real.
Since early childhood I had wanted to kill myself. I had suffered a series of traumatic events which had led me to the conclusion I’d be better off dead. I had no idea of how to do it, so I practiced self-harm instead. One form of pain standing in for another. As an adult, schizophrenia took over my life, and suicide became a clear option. I welcomed death as a way to end the pain of an overwhelming lack of self-worth.
My first of three suicide attempts went unnoticed because it was woven into the fabric of a psychotic break. I’d been starving myself in an attempt to outwit the wretches who tormented me. I succeeded in taking my weight down to where my internal organs felt distressed. My mind followed suit. I was convinced that everyone in the park where I ran was a clone. I began shouting at passersby. Somebody called the cops.
Frantic, I phoned my friend and my therapist, and they called 9-1-1. There were First Responders, firetrucks, and an ambulance. I was taken to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation; I had suffered a massive panic attack. My eating disorder and paranoia had converged to create a maelstrom of delusion. My thinking was wrong. The voices were right. I knew I was a burden to my family and friends. I straddled two worlds—one real, one hyperreal. I was a demon slayer. My purpose was clear: protect the weak and innocent. And kill myself as the voices commanded.
Two years later, a second attempt put me in the psych ward with a wing full of survivors, each dealing with their own mental illness. People like me, yet no one shared my diagnosis—I was the odd man out. According to my paranoia, the staff treated me differently because of it. Schizophrenia came with its own set of rules. Those voices wanted me dead.
The attending psychiatrists prescribed new meds for me, drugs which altered my mood and controlled my delusions. I’d been sick for a very long time, undiagnosed since college. Back then I was an art student, prone to eccentric behavior. In the campus hospital I’d been given chlorpromazine and was released after only three days. It was a different time. Fast-forward and I’d be doing the impossible: making friends with a handful of patients, forging friendships that have lasted to the day. Quite the contrast for a person focused on ending his life. The medications quieted the voices for a while. I went home with my teddy bear to write my memoir.
Another year passed and two more attempts followed, both while I was in the hospital. I tried to strangle myself with a towel in the shower. Two days later I tied my scrubs around my neck. I went home with seven medications, drugs that affected my body as well as my mind.
My roommate tried to help me stay on track with my meds, but things got wonky. I experienced possibly the most pronounced psychosis in my life. I went walkabout and was listed as a missing person. I suffered amnesia and a concussion after a fall into a rockery. I was admitted to another hospital, short on the heels of the previous one. An MRI. Another psychiatrist. A trip from the ER to a mental hospital some forty miles outside of town. It was here that I found solace and a more proactive path.
The suicide attempts behind me, I was weaned off the regimen of meds and put on a different set. At the end of the month I was discharged, better medicated and with the courage to succeed.
Today I receive a monthly injection, augmented with daily meds. I attend therapy every week and see my psychiatrist once a month. I check in with my friends almost every day.
There will always be the chance that I’ll experience symptom breakthrough, but I am learning to accept that this is my life. I want to live it unencumbered, free from the constraints of society’s misconceptions or my own self-stigma, despair, or thoughts of suicide.